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Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament Journey: Becoming Reality

Northwestern needed 10 wins to lock up their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. Wednesday night, they did just that.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS— The official stat sheet recorded a layup and an assist, but to the team, the crowd, and every Northwestern fan, it will be known as the layup and assist that sent Northwestern men’s basketball dancing for the first time in program history.

***

Just about everyone thought they knew what they were about to see.

1.7 seconds left on the clock.

Nathan Taphorn standing on the baseline underneath Michigan’s basket. The ball needed to be in-bounded, brought up the court, and make it to the basket.

Northwestern had been in this situation before. They had games to win in the final seconds at their fingertips, but they hadn’t quite finished them the way they would have liked.

Most notably, this game scenario brought back flashbacks to this past November, when Northwestern played Notre Dame. Nathan Taphorn in-bounded the ball, turned it over, and Northwestern lost in the final seconds.

On Wednesday in Welsh-Ryan, Taphorn was in the same situation.

Except this time, it wasn’t a play they had practiced.

Assistant coach Brian James drew a new play up in the timeout. Taphorn was going to throw the ball across the court to Dererk Pardon on the board. Pardon was going to go up and grab it, and lay it in for a layup.

There wasn’t going to be a safe play, no passing it in and sending the game to overtime. This game was going to end in a layup attempt. Whether or not it went in, no one could control. All they could do is draw it up.

Taphorn went to the baseline. He was being guarded by DJ Wilson at first. After Michigan called a timeout, Mark Donnal guarded him. Taphorn needed to do one thing: his best Trevor Siemian impression and get the ball to Derek Pardon on the other end of the court.

As the ball sailed across the court, Taphorn thought he overshot it. But all of the sudden, Pardon had it in his hands, he put it up, and the shot went in.

Welsh-Ryan Arena erupted. The students from the student sections stormed the court. Chris Collins was in disbelief.

“That was a play I’ll always remember,” Taphorn said after the game.

Not only did Northwestern win a basketball game, they won the game. The game that will send Northwestern dancing for the first time in program history. The game that set a single-season record for wins. The game that was the final weeknight game in Welsh-Ryan Arena before it closes for renovation. The game that will be known as the most important win in Northwestern history. The game that every recruit came to Northwestern to play.

“I think this why we came here,” said Law. “We knew coming in if we wanted to be different, this was the game we had to take.”

Northwestern was different on Wednesday night. And now, they’ll be known as the team that put all the years of never dancing to rest. For Law, this is what he dreamed of when he committed to Collins.

“This was the game that I committed here for,” said Law. “I don’t think any Northwestern team has ever played in a game as big as this that means everything. I mean, how can you not be excited to play this game.”

***

On Wednesday March 1, 2017, Nathan Taphorn in-bounded the ball to Dererk Pardon with 1.7 seconds left on the game clock, and Pardon made a layup. Northwestern won a basketball game. But not just any game, the game that will send Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

How about that for a start to March?